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Strangers in the Sacred Grove: The Changing Meanings of Okinawan Utaki

Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, Faculty of Humanities, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1010 Blindern, 0315 Oslo, Norway
Religions 2019, 10(5), 298; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050298
Received: 14 February 2019 / Revised: 2 April 2019 / Accepted: 15 April 2019 / Published: 28 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Space and Place)
This article discusses the changing significance of sacred groves (utaki) in contemporary Okinawa. Until recently, utaki were the domain of female ritual practitioners (kaminchu or noro), and men were not allowed to set foot in them. In many places, such taboos have faded away, if not disappeared altogether, and utaki have acquired new meanings in the context of mass tourism, heritage conservation, and environmental degradation. Although there are several studies of the ritual system of the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429–1879), little research has been conducted on the postwar and contemporary significance of utaki. This article begins by describing the current situation, using examples from the southeastern part of the island. It then identifies three main issues for the study of sacred groves in Okinawa today: the claim, made by leading Japanese scholars, that these are sites of primordial “nature worship”, supposedly similar to ancient Shinto; the recent popularization of utaki as sites of spiritual power, so-called “powerspots”, among tourists; and, finally, the emerging realization of their potential significance for biodiversity conservation. View Full-Text
Keywords: biodiversity; heritage conservation; kaminchu; nature worship; powerspots; Ryukyu Kingdom; “Ryukyu Shinto”; sacred natural sites; tourism biodiversity; heritage conservation; kaminchu; nature worship; powerspots; Ryukyu Kingdom; “Ryukyu Shinto”; sacred natural sites; tourism
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Rots, A.P. Strangers in the Sacred Grove: The Changing Meanings of Okinawan Utaki. Religions 2019, 10, 298.

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